Server hardware scouting

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (495 Words)

Ok, so I’ve been doing a bit of looking around for my new server builds. As I’ve thought about this, I’ve firmed up my requirements to the following:

  • Low-power, low-noise
  • 2 x 3.5″ SATA2 hard drive bays (hot plug not required, I’m just going to use Linux’s built-in RAID1 again)
  • All standard, replaceable components - no custom PSUs especially
  • Small form factor (as much as possible given the other requirements)
  • Cost-effective
  • Performance almost irrelevant

The things I have decided on:

  • CPU / Motherboard: Intel Atom 330 on D945GCLF2 motherboard. The Atom’s power usage is great (8W idle), the 945G chipset is not so great (25W!) but as a combo they’re still pretty damn good, and not expensive. VIA do the only other alternatives but I’ve had some issues with VIA in the past.
  • HDD: 2 x Western Digital Caviar Greens, because they’re low-power and run cool
  • 1GB miscellaneous RAM 😀
  • No optical or floppy drives, I don’t need them (boot from USB flash drive, OS and other software will be directly downloaded)

The main problem I have now is finding a case. It has to be relatively small, and preferably stackable so I can put two of them on top of each other. Most of the Mini-ITX cases have 2 problems: they either don’t take 2 HDDs, or they use a custom PSU (or both) - I’ve been burned with having a custom PSU on a Mini-ITX machine that failed before, with no replacement available, and have no intention of going down that route again; everything has to be stock, so I can whip it out and replace it easily even if the case model has been discontinued.

Some cases come with an external ‘power brick’ PSU which in itself is pretty standardised (60/80/120W usually), but I remain concerned about the DC circuitry that the brick connects to in the case; if that fails it could be a pain. At least a standard PSU is replaceable in its entirety very easily. And plus, those cases that externalise the PSU tend to be too small to take 2 HDs anyway - all except the Chenbro ES34069 but it’s stupidly expensive.If anyone knows of any others, and has experience of the resilience of external DC power systems, please let me know.

So in the absence of a better option, I’m leaning towards a standard ‘cube’ case like the ThermalTake Lanbox - I have one of these already for a test machine and it’s good, if a little heavier and larger than I actually need (and even the lowest power standard PSU will be overkill, even if I go for an 80 plus certified one). If I was a case designer, I’d take this case, slice about 4 inches off the side and a little off the top, and I’d have precisely what I want - a stackable compact mini-ITX box which uses all standard components and can fit 2 HDDs comfortably. Is that so much to ask?